Have you ever thought about where your trash goes after you wrap it up and drop it off on the corner of your driveway? Until the past year, that's as much thought as I had ever given to this topic. It goes from my kitchen, to my trash bin and then it disappears. But news flash it most certainly does not disappear and it (almost) never will. To be quite honest, at one point in my life I actually thought people burned our trash and it just went away. I had heard the word "landfill" hundreds of times in my life up until this point, but had I ever considered the colossal effect of this one simple word? Not at all. Landfill. We literally fill the land with our "things" every single day and have done so for decades. So what exactly does this mean? Let's break it down. (Unfortunately, I do not mean that literally.)
Above is a chart that shows us exactly how long it takes for our trash to break down on this earth. And these are generous numbers because there are chemicals thrown out into landfills that prevent even organic food waste from breaking down or composting. Ever. Our trash is sometimes petrified by other trash.
Let's go back to the word "landfill." And let's pretend that your front yard is your own personal landfill and you are responsible for getting rid of your trash yourself. There is no one that comes to pick it up, it's all on you. Wouldn't you reconsider everything about what you consume/throw away? In reality it's not our front yards that collect the waste, it's a waste company. But what is even more sad about that is we become blind to the impact we are creating because we cannot see it everyday. For us it's convenient but convenience can often leave us ignorant.
Last week the New York Times, and many other news outlets, released an article on a journal discussing how the vast majority of the trash that has been circulating throughout our oceans has massed together in the Pacific to what is referred to as "trash island." This isn't breaking news, but what is breaking news is that trash island is rapidly increasing in size and is estimated to now be 2x the size of Texas. "But, how does that happen???" is a question I have asked myself countless times. What happens is trash (on top of intentional littering), especially our recycled goods that are sent overseas to be dealt with, blow off course from trucks and ships and float through the currents of our waterways and into the ocean where they eventually mass accumulate between Hawaii and California.
So we think, "okay, that will eventually break down right?" And sadly the answer to that is "kind of." The best case scenario is that some of the plastic will break down over the centuries of erosion and animals picking at them. But they will never fully decompose which leaves us with tiny bits of plastic, referred to as "microplastic."
Those bits of microplastic are often times eaten by small fish (and especially turtles) who mistake them for food. That small fish is then consumed by a larger fish, and so on and so on. That plastic that was eaten by the small fish not only altered the life of itself but also the life of any fish (and then human) who may eat it after that. That plastic cannot break down fully to be digested, so it is sent into the fish's bloodstream. So the trash we toss can come right back to us and into our bodies. That's a terrifying thought if you ask me.
Recently I watched a documentary on Netflix called A Plastic Ocean. If you haven't seen it, I cannot recommend it enough. We are literally destroying our earth with every piece of trash we dispose of. There's a corny but true quote that I love that says, "there's no Planet B." How true is that? We have one earth, one home, and it's our responsibility to take care of it. Did you know that by 2050 there is expected to be more plastic than fish in our oceans? Scientists actually expect that to happen because of the numbers we have handed them to work with. We are expected to fail our oceans, the animals, and the ecosystem. When will it stop? It stops when we refuse to accept complacency and start implementing change. It really does start with us!
So what are some things you can do right now to implement change? Here are the beginner steps I started out with:
- Bring your own canvas or cloth bags to the grocery store. The majority of stores will give you a discount for bringing your own bags so eventually, they pay for themselves!
- Keep reusable utensils, straws, and cups in your car so that you don't have to use plastic ones when you are on the go.
- If you are at a restaurant, ask for no straw with your drink and bring your own containers if you want your food to go. Most restaurants are very compliant. I bring a glass jar and metal straw for my to-go smoothies all the time at Whole Foods!
- Carry your own refillable water bottle (sans plastic lining) so you are always prepared...and hydrated!
- When buying something from any store (especially if it is a small item) ask the cashier if you can skip the bag and just carry it out.
- Shop in the bulk-bin section at your local grocery store. You can bring your own glass jars and tare them at the store before you fill them up. That way when you get home, all you have to do is pop everything you've bought into our cupboard! No trash to be wasted!
- Thrift your clothing and home goods. I bought 12 mason jars and lids of various sizes for $6 at Goodwill the other day. Now I'm set for my next bulk grocery trip. Not everything needs to be new! My goal for 2018 is to only shop second hand for my clothing. So far so good!
- Unsubscribe from all junk mail and magazines you toss in the trash the second you recieve them.
- Go vegan! That will have to be another post for another time :)
These are definitely beginner steps but I think they are by all means doable for anyone at any stage of life. It takes a little more thought, but that's kind of the point! We're fighting complacency.
I also want to leave you with more resources as I have only begun to skim the zero-waste surface in this post:
- Mama Eats Plants is by far one of the most educated people I have come across on zero-waste. She is a mom, has a job, co-cooks a lot of meals with the family in the kitchen, and is a great resource if any of those things apply to you.
- Bea Johnson is the queen of all things zero-waste and was doing it before it was ever a trend or newsflash to us all. She is another amazing source for working moms.
- My friend Emily is so passionate and educated on zero-waste. I love learning from her and her blog.
- Ellen Fisher and her vegan family of 5 live in Hawaii and have tons of Youtube videos on why veganism leaves a much smaller footprint on the earth. She shops ethically and minimally and is prooobably my greatest inspiration.
- A Plastic Ocean and Cowspiracy are two documentaries you can access through Netflix that will open your eyes real wide to the effects of our choices.
I hope that this blog post was equal parts eye-opening and encouraging. There is SO much good we can do today to leave our earth better! I wanted to keep this post brief but soon I will have more blogs dedicated to what is recyclable, what isn't, the recycling ban in China, all kinds of stuff. If you would be interested in a week-long plastic-free challenge, leave a comment in the box below! I would love to hear from you.